No one liked Gilligan's Island but the public. Roundly condemned by critics as the worst sitcom in TV history when it first signed on the CBS schedule in the fall of 1964, the weekly half-hour series nonetheless struck a responsive chord with the viewing public, who were thoroughly amused and delighted by the premise of seven diverse personalities shipwrecked on an uncharted tropical island, managing to make the best of things while never giving up hope of being rescued. The series' premise was laid out each and every week by the theme song "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island," co-written by producer Sherwood Schwartz and performed by the singing group the Wellingtons. Caught in a sudden storm at sea, the S.S. Minnow, a tiny charter boat manned by "Skipper" Jonas Grumby (Alan Hale Jr.) and his daffy first mate, Gilligan (Bob Denver), was washed up on the shore of a flyspeck island somewhere in the South Pacific. Marooned along with Gilligan and the Skipper were five tourist passengers: voluptuous movie star Ginger Grant (Tina Louise); multimillionaire Thurston Howell III (Jim Backus) and his wife, Lovey (Natalie Schafer); high-school teacher Roy Hinkley (Russell Johnson), better known as "The Professor"; and wholesomely sexy secretary Mary Ann Summers (Dawn Wells). With the Minnow damaged beyond repair, the seven castaways resourcefully transformed their island into a home away from home, replete with solid shelters, handmade eating and kitchen utensils, jerry-built furniture, and even a farming and irrigation system. Even so, our heroes and heroines yearned to go back to civilization, but they never quite managed to make it, usually thanks to the ineptitude of the feckless Gilligan.
Although the seven principals were more or less trapped in their environment, quite a few guest stars managed to find their way on -- and off -- the island, including Hans Conried as klutzy pilot Wrong-Way Feldman, Vito Scotti as mad scientist Boris Balinkoff, and Phil Silvers (who owned a piece of Gilligan's Island in real life) as Hollywood mogul Harold Hecuba. The fact that, for all his brilliance, "The Professor" was never able to figure out how to build a new boat or notify the authorities of the castaways' whereabouts was only a part of the farcical fun; Gilligan's Island was, to overstate the obvious, not exactly like real life. A prime example of good, clean, harmless slapstick, Gilligan's Island confounded its many detractors by remaining on CBS for three seasons, then enjoying a spectacularly successful afterlife in rerun form -- not to mention its many feature-length TV "sequels" (such as The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island), two separate TV-cartoon spin-offs, and a multitude of latter-day video retrospectives. It's difficult to argue with that kind of success.